Monthly Archives: October 2012

HERE SHE COMES

October 29 2012                           
It’s 4 o’clock, time for tea. The wind has just picked up as Sandy makes her way toward us, her intentions still a secret. Last night we watched the sky move in layered bands of moody gray, moving in slow and steady from the north like an army deployed toward an unseen enemy, which in this case is the hurricane coming up from the south.

As I watched the sky I felt both the marvel and the terror of nature followed by a sharp sadness that in spite of nature continually trying to wake us up to reality we insist on staying asleep. As Gerhard Richter says in the documentary “Gerhard Richter Painting,”  “waking up to reality is terrifying.” Which is perhaps why so many stay asleep. But what is the terror of reality except the acceptance that we control nothing, and of course this hurricane is a perfect example of that. But if I may parse Richter’s phrase, I would point out that he doesn’t say reality is frightening, but that waking up to it is. My interpretation of that is that in waking up to reality one is waking up to self-responsibility, which I think is what truly terrifies us.

I, Like many people, have been Google-ing “Weather,NYC,” far too many times in the past 24 hours. What do I hope to learn? That reality isn’t terrifying? It’s a fine line between acquiring enough information to make decisions about whether to evacuate, how much ice-cream will tide me over (if the freezer continues to function) and continuing to Google in the ridiculous hope that someone, somewhere, will be able to tell me everything is going to be okay.

I’ve heard people say they think hurricanes are fun and it’s all I can do not to wish them swept away by one. In ’91, during Hurricane Andrew, my daughter and I crouched in the kitchen of our beachfront rental in Provincetown and watched a roof fly past the window. Later we discovered it was the roof to my bedroom. Or, how about a couple of years later when, during a nor’easter – same town different building – I awoke in the night feeling uneasy. So I got out of bed and as I rounded the foot of it the side window blew in leaving shards of glass impaled where my head had just lain. Real fun.

And yet there’s something both awesome and humbling to see this aggressive city in retreat; all public transportation, bridges and tunnels closed down, streets deserted, shops long emptied of supplies and some 10 million people, people who live their lives in constant motion, brought to a standstill.

I bet this is one October Surprise neither of the presidential candidates expected. They too, for all their millions raised must, like the rest of us, wait and see.  As the saying goes: “You can plan but you can’t plan the outcome.”

To be contd….hopefully!

October 30 2012         THERE SHE GOES
Sandy left more quickly than expected having achieved monumental havoc in short order.

We, here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, are among the lucky few who escaped her impact. Apart from a few terrifying gusts and a bit of rain we survived the night peacefully, watching a Queen documentary – Queen the band, not Queen the Queen – noshing on soup, bathing by candlelight and sleeping undisturbed while the lower 3rd of Manhattan suffered terrible flooding and loss of power. My daughter had texted me during the evening saying she was watching cars float down her street on the Lower East Side. The city will be without transportation for days and many areas will remain without power. Homes and power stations have burned, trees are felled, debris of all kinds litters the streets.

When we awoke this morning we were surprised to be unscathed and selfishly enjoyed the peace of no traffic or planes. How random life is, how indiscriminating is nature. This morning a rare break in the clouds made for a burst of sunshine even as the rain fell and a momentary rainbow flung its myth upon the surface of the river.



THE MISTS OF TIME

October 22, 2012                    
Last Friday we drove up to the New Paltz, Stone Ridge area of upstate New York to spend the weekend with dear friends. It’s an area I know like the proverbial back of the hand, having lived there, on and off, for most of the 70’s and 80’s.

It was a gray, misty day with intermittent rain, which at this time of year is one of my favorite kinds of day in that the sad gloom of the atmosphere is eradicated by the vibrancy of autumn’s colors which, rather than being dimmed by the absence of sunlight, seem to glow from within their own glorious rays.

It reminded me of how hard I’d looked all those years, years of driving over Mohonk Mountain down to the valley where my salon was located. Seasons and years of driving the same road until it had the familiarity of a vein pulsing on the back of my hand as I clutched the steering wheel, navigating the treachery of the mountain in mists and snows, rainstorms and sun-drenched summer evenings. And all the while looking hard at the woods and fields and distant mountains until color, light, form and texture imprinted itself on my retina and beyond, to my mind’s eye where, later, after work, after dinner was cooked and dishes washed, after the children’s homework, I would steal away to my studio and wait there until the image resurfaced, identifying itself through the paint tubes and brushes, the paper, the canvas and, as I always felt, beyond, to the other side of the wall where the muse whispered her instructions to me.

I do not miss that area of the world, loaded as it is with the litter of failed marriages, addictions, custody battles and a sort of endemic, native depression one finds in small American towns trapped in the valleys between mountains, as if to live in such a place is to dwell in the deepest of ruts. So, no, I miss none of that. But I do miss the intense engagement in the relationship between art and nature as expressed through the medium of paint.  

In fact, for someone who has a background in dance and music and art I do often wonder why I settled for the maddening and often thankless medium of writing. How much easier it is to invite a person to the studio and have them “see” all at once, the completed canvas as opposed to asking for the ever diminishing willingness it takes to “read” a whole book – or even, these days, a short essay. And yet writing is the one art form I just can’t put down, having been “at” it now for 45 years. 

Do I think I can express myself more fully with the pen? Or is it partly the convenience of not having to lug a piano or paint and canvas around? Never mind the ungodly effort it takes to keep a body tuned for dancing!

The mist was thick and low when we reached the crest of Mohonk. A truck had miscalculated the turn and ended up splayed halfway across the road, its rear end stuck in the muddy field. I could have stayed for hours, left the car there and tramped off into the mist where I could have been surprised by deer and looming color.

     Maggie’s photo
After 20 minutes there were perhaps as many cars at a standstill, the drivers in various stages of impatience to get moving. I walked along the road a ways, looking hard into the woods. On the way back to our car I decided to look at the drivers and saw that they seemed to be limited to two choices: exasperation, or interaction with the tiny screen of a cellphone. Either way a narrow existence.

When we finally arrived at our friends’ house the mist was turning toward the darkness of night, the fire ablaze in the hearth. After unpacking, the four of us sank into the couches and looked at a painting of mine they’d bought 29 years ago. It has sat above the fireplace all this time. They say they never tire of it and often disappear into it. And I, too, having visited this house many times over the years, still sit and look at the blues and greens and grays and blacks and white of brush-stroked paint that all those years ago arranged themselves into the impressionistic wooded background before which a meadow is inhabited by the ghosts of cows and deer.

I remember as if it were now, the sensation of those creatures appearing beneath my hand, knowing then, as now, that they had naught to do with me except in the willingness with which I had invited the muse.

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

A NOTE:  to all our dear Followers: our book, Provence: Lasting Impressions is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Joel’s retrospective book is available in the artist’s edition, complete with a print, from Phaidon. A more affordable edition will be out next year. Also a reminder to you all to please share our Blog-site with your friends. 
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October 15 2012                            
One day, toward the end of summer, I was folding Joel’s underwear which I had just brought in off the Tuscany clothes line, and as I stood there, I had one of those pangs of awareness that shifts the ground beneath your feet; the overwhelming realization that one day I would no longer be standing in this world folding the underwear of the man I love. It was a moment both divine and bereft, but what has stayed with me is the gratitude for life that allows us the ability to perform the simplest of chores.

This past Saturday I had a similar moment while sitting with my dear daughter and telling her that 22 years ago to the day I broke my neck – and broke it within less than hair’s breadth of my life, that being the measurement given by doctors when they look at my X-rays and wonder why I’m still here. As I looked at my daughter I had that sudden jolt again, but this time it was about still being in the world, for 22 years I so nearly didn’t have. What a miracle.

How easily we forget. How many times in those 22 years have I grumbled at having to fold the laundry, yet again. I know everything is relative but really, I would like to connect more often to the privilege that so many of us take for granted: the ability to live in a society where we daily have the freedom to perform the mundane and sometimes the miraculous. As opposed, say, to the 14 year-old girl from Pakistan recently shot by the Taliban for wanting to going to school. For wanting to go to school. Doesn’t it make you think about how much we squander in our lives?

Talking about lives, my dear Joel is celebrating his 50th year as a photographer and along with our book, his retrospective book, and the Royal Photographic Society Award, he was given, last Monday, the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lucie Gala.

We flew out to LA on the Saturday and checked into the Beverly Hilton where the black tie event would be held in the Ballroom. But first, it being LA, there were a couple of other events to be had. We did think it a bit odd when we checked in to find that almost every guest was accompanied by a dog and were somewhat alarmed that our room might bear a whiff of canine if this was such a dog-friendly hotel. As it was, our room was directly over the restaurant vents gagging us with an aroma somewhere between hospital trolley and school canteen.

Back to the front desk to request a room on a higher floor which unfortunately would not be available until the following day as the hotel was fully booked due to the Hero Dog Gala to be held that evening in the same Ballroom where we would be wagging out tails come Monday. Yep, The Hero Dog Gala. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen owners and dogs in formal wear, the only difference between them being that the dogs had medals pinned to gowns or tuxes, as the case may be. And yes, there was a red carpet, which we tried to crash but were shooed away from like, well, bad doggies. So off we went to sniff out dinner.


Los Angeles. The desolation. The empty streets. The opulent cars. Rodeo Drive. Did I mention the desolation? We walked in and out of 6 restaurants, our depression growing along with our hunger. But I’ll say this for LA, it’s always full of surprises. Just as we were about to give up and return to the mini-bar snacks, we stumbled upon a tiny Japanese restaurant that had just about the best miso soup, seaweed salad and sushi we have ever had. Sated and tired we walked back to the hotel where we aptly watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel before drifting off.

On Sunday we had our first event: a reading and presentation from our Provence book at the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble, an event we nearly didn’t make as the hotel and all surrounding streets were put in lockdown for two hours because Obama, in town for a fundraiser, was staying overnight on the floor above us.

God, what a life he opted for. Gunmen on the roof, armored cars, cement blockades, bomb-sniffing dogs, secret service on our floor as well as his, Airport scanners in the lobby. Too bad the hero dogs had left, I thought, because if ever anyone needed rescuing right now …

As it turned out, we could have missed our event. 5 people showed up, 2 of them friends of ours. Turns out only one sales person in the entire store knew there was an event that night, so it hadn’t been promoted. But good troopers that we are we put on a good show and actually sold 4 books! Hey, 4 out of 5, those are great percentages.

The next event was the Lucie’s which were, well, a bit like the Oscars really: lots of great looking people in great looking clothes, the red carpet, paparazzi, loud music, some very moving moments outnumbered by boring, overly long speeches. And then my man, star of the evening, ageless, exquisitely attired, erudite, from the heart and brief.



Which brings me back to those briefs I was folding this summer and the brevity of life which somehow manages to pack in more events than we could ever foresee but which we might all fold with a little more care and a little less complaint and place on the shelf marked “Gratitude.”



A LIFT AND A LAUGH

4th October 2012                       
Sometimes you just have to have a good laugh – anything will do – but perhaps the most rewarding laugh is at oneself.

I had tooth surgery a couple of weeks ago. Yep. Another one. You may remember the implant that fell out a year ago and earlier this year the bone graft surgery? Turns out that in spite of osteoporosis I can still grow bone when I have to and in order to get that hole used as a tooth holder, I had to. So the time had arrived to drill up through that new bone, lift the membrane and sinus and insert the titanium post. Yes, I did ask the dentist if there was anything else he could lift while he was at it but…So I settled for some gas and 60’s rock music and went home with an ice pack and painkillers, ready to eat soft food for a couple of days and get on with life.

Ah, life, what goodies it has in store for us. Who knew that along with the pain of post-surgery I would also be gifted 5 canker sores in that area, courtesy of the tissue damage from the retractor…no extra charge. For 5 days that side of my face looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy…after he maybe ate himself. And frankly, the pain was so horrendous for 8 days that you’re probably wondering what on earth there is to laugh about. I’ll tell you.

Having been an alcoholic and addict for more years than the 23 I’ve been clean and sober, painkillers scare me. So in order to ride it out without them I sequestered myself in the bedroom for the duration, alternating between watching a British TV murder series…5 series to be exact…and reading Julian Barnes (also British) meditation-slash-discourse on death, the twisted title of which, “Nothing To Be Afraid Of,” I find admirable for its ironic double entendre. What’s laughable now is that at the time, the decision to refrain from pain meds and immerse myself in murder and all other forms of death seemed both sensible and courageous: sensible to distract myself with other people’s misery, and courageous to immerse myself in the fear of death as being unavoidable, according to Barnes’ and the many centuries of famous people whose deaths he gave as examples.

On the 9th day I arose and went shopping for a dress to wear this evening, when I shall be presenting my dear Joel with The Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lucie’s, in L.A; the Lucie’s being to photography what the Oscars are to film. While being fitted for the dress the expert told me I needed to get a bra that would “bring ‘em in and lift ’em up,” which for a minute I mistook as an invite to a
Christian rally. 

It would seem that I have arrived at the moment in life when everything needs to be lifted: sinuses, breasts, and all the bits between and below. I’m going for the bra, but then I’m done. I’m a 60’s girl and we stopped wearing what we then referred to as “tit-slings” before the feminists thought it necessary to burn them as an essential part of acquiring equality.

We’re all laughable. All of us making misguided decisions for all the wrong reasons. I told Joel the other day that I feel like I’m on a really fast learning curve these days, learning with every decision I make what is really essential, what is to be gained, and for what price. I actually love how riding this curve feels: it feels like freedom. You get to be in your 60’s (me) or 70’s (Joel) and you know a thing or two. And that’s all you know, 2 things: 1) you are alive. 2) you are going to die.

The great thing about this learning curve is that it enables us to make choices that make living more vital, pared down, and adventurous. And most of these decisions have to do with deciding between more or less: more teeth, less sag; more acquisitions, less freedom; more acceptance, less control.  And you have to ask yourself the true questions in order to get the real answer e.g., you want more money or more time? Time to enjoy what you already have; time to play; time to give help to those in need, time to sit on a farm and simply watch the light.

By the time I eventually get this fake tooth on it’s post it will have cost around 8,000 smackeroos. The next time…and I ferverently hope there isn’t one …a tooth falls out I’m going to have to ask whether I want to go through 3 surgeries, $8,000, weeks of pain, too many murders, and a depressing book on death. Or do I want to mind the gap while chomping on a crusty baguette in the Luberon Valley.

When all is said and done a fake tooth and hoisted breasts won’t make me look like a 30 year old. I’ll just look like a 66 year old with an expensive dentist and a good bra.